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J. L. Mackie on the Problem of Evil and Omnipotence

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J. L. Mackie on the problem of evil and omnipotence


The premises that God is entirely good, God is omnipotent and the existence of evil bring about the problem of evil (Mackie 111). Atheists in particular claim that existence of evil is concrete evidence that God does not exist. According to atheism, pervasive suffering, pain, diseases, moral depravity and misery witnessed in whole universe are perfectly explained by the fact that morally perfect, omniscient and omnipotent being does not exist (Mackie 357). Naturally, the problem of evil takes place in everyday religious settings. Generally, the problem of evil forms the grounds for reconstruction arguments of numerous philosophical atheists. Contrary, theists acknowledge the problem of evil and provide explanation that excludes God from failing to eliminate it. As a matter of fact, it is extremely difficult for theists to deny the argument that there exists evil in the world (Mackie 119). It is a common claim that with respect to Abrahamic religion all human beings by default are contaminated with the original sin.

John Leslie Mackie is a famous philosopher from Australia who made enormous contributions to metaphysics, philosophy of religion and many other disciplines (Mackie 99). Mackie is well remembered for energetically supporting atheism as well as claiming that the problem of evil makes it impossible to defend monotheistic religions. Nonetheless, in one of his major arguments, Mackie claimed that the Universe is better with some evil in it than it could be if there were no evil (Mackie 213). This essay seeks to agree with this claim although it points out some of inconsistencies within the claim.

Problem of the evil

Mackie indicates that all arguments supporting existence of God have been found by various philosophers to be unacceptable or faulty (Johnson 54). However, he stresses that the finding need not persuade anyone that there is no rationale for believing in Supreme Being. According to Mackie, philosophy is not only capable of criticizing the arguments for existence of God but also revealing that God does not actually exist. Mackie highlights the problem as, ‘’God is Omnipotent, God is entirely good and yet evils exists.’’ He notes that among the three propositions there appears to be some contradiction in that if two of propositions were deemed true, the third one will be untrue (Johnson 56). In line with theodicy, the three propositions must adhere, a statement that Mackie disperses. Mackie is in a view that good thing often eliminates evil as much as it can and that omnipotent thing has no limitations to what it can achieve or perform. Consequently, it follows that a good omnipotent thing completely eliminates evil thus existence of good omnipotent thing and existence of evil are incompatible.

The perceptions that moral perfection (good) is opposed to evil and that no limits to what an omnipotent thing can perform are problematic. First, pertaining good thing it has been revealed that there situations in which a good human being knowingly permits and always causes suffering and pain. Secondly, studies have shown that there are limits to what an omnipotent thing can do (Johnson 57). Such limits are referred to as logical limits. In addition, Mackie states that to have God who is truly omnipotent then that God must be above realm of logic. Therefore, if that is the case then there is no problem of evil because God’s ability to be above the realm of logic would allow God being good as well as existence of evil away from logic realm (Mackie 168).

Evil is essential as counterpart to good.

Literally, it is impossible for good to exist without evil. Indeed, it is termed as causal law which cannot attain certain outcome in absence of a particular means (Hasker 311). As a result, God could not have created universe full of goodness and happiness without some evil in it. Mackie points out that through God allowing evil to co-exist with good, His omnipotence proposition is limited.

However, it is important to state that omnipotence does not necessarily stretch to performing logically impossible activities or things. Nevertheless, Mackie believes that if God had to bring evil as way of attaining good, then he must be bound to some causal laws (Mackie 123). This perception is wrong since God can do great things including walking on water and changing water into wine implying that God is not subject to causal laws. Actually most of theists believe that God made the causal laws.  Realization that greatness needs smallness should help people comprehend the relationship between evil and good (Johnson 64). Despite of Mackie rejecting the argument that any quality must have actual antonym, it is important to note that if God created everything good people will never notice it. For instance, for redness to exist there must be non-redness. If only redness existed humans would notice it and even there will be no word for it. This further stresses the significance of having evil in the universe so that the goodness could be recognized (Mackie 382).

Evil is necessary for free will

Many types of evils are due to free actions of human beings as opposed to deeds of God (Hasker 300). However, there are other evils which are not caused by free will of human beings, for example, destruction, misery and death that are caused by natural phenomena (earthquakes, birth defects, diseases, floods and many others). This distinction between the two evils leads to classification of evil as moral evil (caused by free will of people) and physical evil (associated with natural occurrences). Theodicy attributes the responsibility for suffering and pain (both oral and causal) in this universe to free will of divinely established agents (Johnson 68). Free will is significantly good to an extent that it would be worse to lack free choice compared to having different evils which confront persons. Genuine free will and pure moral responsibility outweigh on some axiological degree the suffering and pain which necessarily arise from the practice of free choice by non-perfect agents. The explanation of evil using free will relies on three assumptions. First, authentic moral responsibility contains nondeterministic type of free choice. Second, agreeing with ethical balancing which states that moral responsibility is more essential than complete elimination of evil (Mackie 278). Last, conceding that nondeterministic free will is logically not compatible with elimination of evil by God.



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